The Great ‘let’s buy a new game at an actual shop’ Challenge

Today is a day I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Yes there’s Daft Punk’s new single that I’m not 100% sold on. What I am sold on though is Fire Emblem Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS. Pat had been raving about how great it is and how much he reckoned I would enjoy it. Once the demo was available in the UK Nintendo eShop I grabbed it. He was right, I did really like it.

From then on my sights were set on April 19th; the European release date. I’m a bit funny in that when something comes out, I want to go to a shop and have it in my hands rather than ordering online and waiting on the post. I pre-ordered Paper Mario Sticker Star for the 3DS through Game’s website and didn’t have a fun time. The game came several days after the release date and the pre-order bonus of a Paper Mario poster took several emails and a couple of months to arrive.

Now here’s the tricky bit. If you know anything about the retail world of the UK you’ll know it’s in a bit of a slump. The two main shops for games in central London are both in rough shape with many stores shut. That would be HMV and Game. In around the west end, there is one HMV left on Oxford Street and a Game taking up a corner of the lower level of Hamley’s toy shop.

At lunch time today I was on my merry way thinking that surely at one of these two big stores I would find my sought after game. How very wrong I was.

HMV was up first. Had a look around, no Fire Emblem. Asked an employee – nope, sorry. We didn’t get any in.

Ok, let’s try Game at Hamleys. Looked around, nothing. I didn’t recall seeing many recent releases but they did have ‘coming soon!’ boxes out for Pokemon, Animal Crossing and the new Donkey Kong 3DS games. That doesn’t help me. There was nobody to ask and just two staff members at the rather busy tills. I took another look around just to be sure that Fire Emblem wasn’t there.

Walking back to work I tried to think of any other place around Oxford Street / Regent Street for games. There’s HMV in Selfridges, but they are always lack on stock. If the flagship HMV didn’t have it, that one would be a waste of time. Got back to my desk and checked the websites for John Lewis, nope. Pat suggested Harrods as a stab in the dark. A search for ‘Nintendo’ on their site comes back with a perfume called Intenso. Oh man.

What about Tesco or Argos. I could pick it up in store couldn’t I? Argos was a big nope. Tesco has it, but you can only buy it online and have it shipped to you. There was no option to collect in store.

The next closest Game location was in Camden Town. I tried ringing them several times throughout the day with no answer. I started to wonder if they had shut down as well, but thankfully their Twitter account was still active. I headed north after work to have a look. I walked in and oh my heart skipped a beat – there was a big display of Fire Emblem: Awakening cases!

OMG LOOK THERE IT IS

I grabbed one and took it up to the till. The guy at the counter looked at it, looked up and said ‘sorry, we’re all sold out’. I would have loved to have seen the look on my face at that point. “Really?! Buying this game is proving really difficult today” I said. Turns out they only got 8 copies and they all sold. EIGHT COPIES.

In the off chance someone bought a copy and hawked it at the two trade in shops up the street I checked both of them as well. No dice.

At this point there was nothing for it. I decided to try another Game location that I know is still in operation; at Westfield Stratford. I want that game bad enough that I’ll go to Westfield for it. That’s pretty telling. I did actually try calling them during the day, but like Camden there was no answer. Maybe Games’s phones have been cut off.

I make it to Stratford and survive the long dark walk from the station to the shopping centre. Step into Game with a faint glimmer of hope. Dashed. It is nowhere to be seen. The same ‘coming soon’ boxes that the one at Hamley’s had, but no Fire Emblem. And again, no staff to ask. Guess that’s what happens when your company has to be saved from going down the tubes. Another sweep of the store to be certain. Take a closer look at that ‘New Release’ section at the front of the store. What’s this, lots of copies of new X-Box games and beneath it… sodding voucher cards for the latest 3DS games.

This is how we buy games now :(

UGH. I’m at a shop, I don’t want to buy a voucher to download a game over the internet. This is the biggest shopping centre in Europe, and that’s how you buy 3DS games at it.

There is another Game location in Hammersmith I didn’t make it to, but let’s be realistic. If they had any, they probably sold both copies already. For the day that 8 confirmed copies in existence  That’s 1 physical copy for every 1 million Londoners. That’s kind of crazy and kind of sad.

I’m not sure if this is something like what happened with the U.S. release of Fire Emblem where stocks were hard to come by. Even if it isn’t, it’s still a sad thought that buying a physical format of something in a city this big is this difficult. I had a realisation at Westfield that in all these clothes and phone and cosmetic shops, there is nowhere at all to buy music.  Maybe video games are going to get to that point as well. Can’t say I much look forward to it. Now, let’s open up a new tab and buy this thing on Amazon like everybody else and wait.

Game Collecting Pro-tip #1

Keep those cartridge contacts clean,
And never shall you see
A flashing grey screen.

My recently eBay’d copy of The Legend of Zelda for the NES arrived in the post today, woo hoo! What’s the first thing I did? Why I took it apart and cleaned the contacts of course. With clean contacts all my NES games work beautifully on a NES that has lived in a garage for the better part of this millennium. Even without replacing the 72-pin connector. I’m using a cleaning kit I picked up from Nintendo Repair Shop, it’s worth it just for the proper screw driver bit to take the cartridges apart.

Working On The Family Tree

So much for just focussing on collecting Gameboy stuff because it doesn’t take up much space. Since Deciding that I’ve managed to acquire more of the Nintendo family tree as it were.

First off in May, the sound on my PAL Super Nintendo was on its last legs. I happened upon an auction for a SNES in super good condition that was just the console; no games, cables, etc. Fine by me as I already had that. £3.something later I was the proud owner of a second European SNES. Not only does the sound work on my new one, but it’s not yellowed either. Score!

My PAL Super Nintendos

In June I had a hankering to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Which is a bit odd for me because I never really got into the Nintendo 64 that much. Still, that was enough to get me looking through eBay. Another big score there. For £29 (I think it was, if not it was close) I got a mint N64 in the original box, a second controller in its box, a memory card / rumble pack and nine games (some with their instruction booklet). Best of all, Ocarina of Time was one of the games. Mario 64 was in the mix as well which gave me a good opportunity to give that game another try. I’m warming up to it. There was one more game that I had to get and that was Starfox 64. The European version is called Lylat Wars for some bizarre reason. I should look that up. And do a barrel roll.

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Ages ago my mate Charlie said that I could have a Nintendo NES that he found in his parent’s garage. I went and visited him yesterday and oh man, it was a pretty decent haul of NES stuff that I made away with. Sure it was all a bit mucky from being in storage but nothing a couple of hours cleaning this morning couldn’t fix. I even took apart all of the cartridges and cleaned the connector pins. No corner cutting here.

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Opening up cartridges is interesting. There’s lots of different variations on what the boards inside have on them. Most common is like this (nicely shined up) Double Dragon
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Mario / Duck Hunt though is the most basic NES board I’ve come across:
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And here’s the whole lot, all cleaned up and ready to go.
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An ‘NES Version’ console, four controllers, an orange Zapper and twelve games. A nice bonus is that the Super Mario. Bros cartridge is one of the early release ones with a different cartridge design. Notice how the top doesn’t have the same notches as all the other carts. There’s also five screws on the back instead of three. NEAT.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve had world 3-3 of Mario 3 on pause for a while and should get back to it.

The Newest Member of the Collection

The Newest Addition

As recently mentioned, I’ve been keen on collecting Gameboy games as of late. They’re tiny and don’t seem to be quite as popular (ie: pricey) as some other older consoles and games.

For whatever reason the idea of getting a Gameboy Micro popped into my head last week. I can’t even recall why. When they first came out six years ago I was a bit intrigued but dismissed them as being too small. It didn’t help that in North America they were packaged with three kind of ugly faceplates.

I started looking on eBay for them. Ah! In the UK not only was the packaging different, but the colour schemes were as well. You had your choice of four metallic colours rather than having to go with whichever faceplate you found the most agreeable (or buying another one). There sure were a lot of pink ones on eBay. I wasn’t having that though. The blue, silver and green were all really nice looking so I loaded up my watch list.

After a few days of them going for what I thought was too much, I realised that I’m probably not going to get one cheaper than the standard going rate of £30. Not if I wanted one that wasn’t banged up and/or missing parts. I ended up getting a blue one, with the original packaging (velvety carry pouch ahoy!) for just under the going rate. Smashing!

It arrived yesterday and I must say it was love at first sight. The build quality is really quite nice. I much prefer the buttons and D-pad on the Micro over the Gameboy Advance SP. It’s also really comfortable to hold for long periods of time… confirmed by a couple of hours of Castlevania Aria of Sorrow last night. And the screen… well yes it is tiny but that doesn’t make it hard to play at all. If anything it makes the GBA games look better. Both the SP and micro have 240 x 160 px resolution but on the Micro those pixels are pushed closer together.

The speaker quality and volume isn’t that impressive, but I’m really not surprised. What is nice though is the built in headphone jack. No more having to use a goofy adapter with my SP to use headphones. (yes yes, I could use my DS Lite, but it’s just not the same as usually original hardware remember!).

Not sure how well it would work if you had overly large hands, but for me this lil’ guy is perfect. Only thing left to test is how good the battery life is. Only one way to do that… back to Castlevania :)